TV shows such as “Miami Vice” give us the impression that southern Florida is nothing but an urban jungle. There is more than enough development and cityscape, but Richard and I love SoFL for its untamed lands. Winter is by far the best time to see Florida’s wild beauty, and we are making the most of it.
|West Lake trail at Everglades NP|
Western forests and deserts are untamed enough to satisfy most people, but southern Florida dishes out the wild like no place else. Under the best of circumstances Florida's wetlands are hard to access. Many parks have boardwalks to access their tangled mangrove swamps. I know a few tough people who have walked through mangroves, but let’s just say that they had compelling reasons to do so. I haven’t tried it yet.
You need a boat to see much of the Everglades and mangrove swamps, and even a sturdy craft doesn’t make it easy. Canoeing the Everglades’ sawgrass prairie is delightful as long as you don’t run out of water – a concern during Florida’s dry season. It also pays to keep an eye on the tide.
Southern Florida’s wildlife is simply incredible. There are many great places to see critters, but the Everglades is king of them all. The early ‘Glades had few dry places, but there is now a single road which gives access to the park.
Just about everything in SoFL - roads, buildings - lies upon heaped up coral rock, and the ditches and holes which supplied that rock are now filled with water. Those ditches are now waterways teeming with animals which are so accustomed to people in the Everglades park that you can watch them go about their lives only a few feet away. Some people get far too close. Winter’s dry weather concentrates birds, fish, turtles, and alligators in areas with water, so Anhinga Trail and Shark Valley are world class animal-watching spots.
|Big alligator at Anhinga Trail|
|Germany's most stupid tourist|
Black vultures are prominent at Anhinga Trail. They have a peculiar habit of dismantling parked vehicles, especially windshield wipers. One could say that vultures really do enjoy a good tailgate party, and removal of weatherstripping is their version of Pin the Tail on the Donkey. The park provides tarps to people who want to protect their vehicles at Anhinga Trail. At more remote locations we wrap the wipers with plastic bags, hoping the fluttering will scare the vultures off. Limited success there - they are they are picking the caulk from our camper.
I am a long-time birder, and have added butterflies to my search-and-identify mania. Florida has butterflies like no other place, and this year there is a bumper crop. It is much safer to get close to butterflies than alligators, and I am making the most of it. This friendly fellow is called The Monk.
Butterflies aren’t the only things I’ve picked up over the years – sea hares, non-poisonous snakes – anything that lets me get close enough. I added a new critter to my portfolio a few days ago when I learned how to entice a tree crab. Slide my hand up the crab’s mangrove perch from below gently enough, and I can persuade it to transfer to my fingers. There, it daintily picks at my skin with tiny claws unless I get the camera too close. That giant eye is a threat, and the crab launches itself into space, down to the safety of the mangroves and mud.